The biennial High Speed Boat Operation (HSBO) Forum took place recently in Göteborg, Sweden. ‘Maritime Journal’ sent Paul Lemmer, who as a first timer to the event was surprised by the number and variety of dark coloured ‘stealth’ type craft on show but managed to test drive all but a couple of the (over 30) assembled boats. We asked him to report back on the four most interesting craft.

While the results were varied, the quality of all the assembled craft was excellent and it shows that when significant money is invested in the rescue, commercial and military sectors, the results would appear to reflect those investments.

Damen Inboard RHIB 1050
Dutch ship/boat builder Damen is one of the best known and respected shipyards in Europe and its latest 1050 RIB (Lloyds certified hull) fitted with a pair of Volvo D6 370hp diesels coupled to DPR sterndrives was an impressive package.

Quality, finish and build integrity appear first class, with E-Glass and Corecell sandwich incorporated into the construction to ensure strength and durability. Whilst the origins of the design come from Damen, many of the features, particularly in the hull shape are through collaboration with Dutch Coastguard engineer and professional RIB pilot Paul Hollander. Paul has for many years operated RIBs for the Coastguard, particularly with high-speed RIB to ship personnel transfers and specific hull features are essential for these exercises to ensure the craft can operate safely in the significant wash created by a 45m Coastguard Cutter travelling at over 20 knots!

The craft sits very level at rest, no doubt helped by the engines being mounted amidships rather than right aft and this central weight distribution also helps the craft to plane without the usual ‘hump’ associated with deep V hulls. The unstepped 24 degree deadrise hull looks pretty conventional but the rounded V sections aft that evidently play an important part in stabilising the craft in cross seas and wakes, effectively allowing the helmsman to break free from a ship’s side, no matter how much ‘suction’ is being exerted by the wash of the mother ship.

With 740 horsepower to play with, it was not surprising that this was a very fast boat and in excess of 50 knots accompanied by rapid acceleration with 6 people aboard was comfortably achieved.

Ergonomically, this has to be one of the best helm positions I have used, with everything spot on in terms of layout for both helmsman and co-pilot. On taking the controls, I immediately felt at ease and despite the robustness of the craft, which must weigh in at over 4000kg, it handled impeccably, even refusing to slip or show any quirkiness when cornering at abnormally high speeds.

Summing up I would say that the Damen 1050 RIB is a craft for the discerning end user that demands the best quality regardless of cost.

Raven RIB 9m
In complete contrast to the Damen, the Danish Raven RIB 9m is a much lighter and sportier affair and it is not just fast, it is extraordinarily fast! At rest the open 12 seater version does not give a clue as its potential performance and although it looks quite sleek, with a plethora of seats across its decks, it hides its potential by suggesting it is just another people carrying safari boat; that would be a mistake, for here is truly one of the fastest and sweetest handling RIBs I have tested.

There were two Raven RIBs at the HSBO, an open twelve seater passenger version fitted with twin Mercury Verado 350hp outboards and a two seat fully enclosed streamlined canopied version sporting the same 24 degree deadrise twin stepped hull but fitted with a pair of ‘breathed on’ Verado 400hp and weighing… ‘not much’!

With seven people aboard the people carrying RIB, we achieved an astonishing 69 knots (70.35 mph) on the GPS and the craft felt rock solid at this speed. There was no feeling of lightness or flightiness and the cornering was of the ‘on rails’ variety, unlike many stepped hull craft where the steps can be their Achilles heel. We accompanied the enclosed version for a picture shoot and it was interesting to note that whilst looking very dramatic with its high ‘rooster tail’ of spray flying many metres into the air at full speed, it was somehow less impressive than the open commercial version which was nowhere near as aerodynamic, perfectly practical and probably twice the weight!

Of course, I had to try the canopied version but to my slight consternation, it was even more spartan on the inside than the outside. There were just two bucket seats with a seat belts, a steering wheel, controls, engine instruments and a GPS; there were no grab handles or footrests with which to brace oneself and as a passenger it was slightly unnerving. The point of this is to report a recorded GPS top speed of 87 knots (100mph) and that is fast in any boat, thus proving the excellent hydrodynamics of the hull.

Whilst there is little justification for such a craft outside the racecourse, Raven are planning more practical semi-enclosed multi seat versions for thrill seeking commercial passenger rides, or for professional authorities who require a vessel that is faster than the ‘bad guys’ boat! Whilst this is an innovative approach for a limited market, the open craft is far more practical, with various versions available based on the same extraordinarily efficient hull.

Summing up, the Raven 9m RIBs are one of, if not the fastest and sweet handling production outboard commercial RIBs I have tested and if performance is the end users number one priority, these craft would have to be on their short list.

Rafnar Embla 11m
Probably the first major RIB manufacturer to hail from Iceland and its unique features reflect the environment in which these craft operate.

With its white wheelhouse topped with a bright orange flash on the roof, this craft stood out from the many black/dark grey stealth type RIBs on show and because the Rafnar is designed to operate in freezing Icelandic conditions, its wheelhouse has been built to offer its crew proper thermic protection from the elements.

The buoyancy tubes are unusual in the way they are kinked halfway along their length; the aft tube sections are close to the water to provide stability at rest/slow speeds but they kink up for the forward half of the craft and then run flat to the bow. Most other RIBs have sheer to their bows but the Rafnar’s approach achieves its raised bow in a different way. Why it is done like this is not clear but it does afford more freeboard forward and thus provide a safer working area for crew operating on the foredeck, although interestingly, it does not provide a drier ride but this may be down to the shape of the hull and the way the craft rides.

On the water the uniqueness continues through the hull shape and it is in this area where Rafnar really is totally different from any other RIB. The bow has a wave piercing appearance, with a straight sheer that suggests a conventional hull aft but unlike any other Rib, the hull drops down to form a bulb shape amidships and then rises up again in the aft sections. What this unusual hull shape does provide is extraordinary handling, the craft being able to be turned in its own length, pivoting around the central ‘bulb’ of the hull, even at high speed and it’s a strange sensation turning in this manner.

The deadrise angle is a relatively shallow 15 degrees and this could suggest slamming in steeper waves, however, the unique hull shape evidently keeps the whole length of the hull ‘planted’ and because the bows are less likely leave the water, they part rather than ride up over waves. Although unable to prove this theory in the sheltered waters around Gothenburg, the company’s confidence in the crafts abilities was proven when this Rafnar 11m arrived by sea having navigated all the way from Iceland to the HSBO! During our test, the GPS showed a top speed of 41 knots at only 5000RPM, which suggests there is more speed to be obtained and to back this up, an owner of an identical Rafnar who was visiting the HSBO claims to regularly see 50 knots with only twin 225hp outboards.

To sum this unusual craft up is difficult due to the lack of waves in which to test it but it certainly offers good protection for its crew, turns like no other RIB and is very well finished both inside and out.

Iguana Expedition 31
Unique is difficult to achieve when describing boats, but that word definitely applies to the Iguana 31. Here is a people carrying craft that is beautifully constructed and an excellent handling wave piercing hull that looks as if it should provide a smooth ride in adverse sea conditions but that is just the beginning!

Although driven by a single Mercury Verado 400hp outboard, which provides more than sufficient power, there is a second 2 litre VW inboard engine hidden beneath the steering console, whose sole purpose is powering the craft’s separate sophisticated hydraulics system and the reason for these hydraulics is because the Iguana is an amphibious vehicle.

What appear to be built in fenders on either side are in fact rubber caterpillar tracks and these can be deployed in 8 seconds to allow the craft to be driven up a sandy or shingle beach, through mud, across reasonable size rocks or through boggy terrain! What at first sight looks nothing more than an expensive toy, suddenly becomes a completely different animal. Here is a vehicle that can be driven up just about any shore and deposit its passengers safely on land without breaking sweat.

The brainchild of a wealthy Frenchman from Brittany, the Iguana was initially conceived to provide a high quality vessel that was not just the equal or better than many similar sized craft but one that could also climb over or through the tricky terrain on the Brittany shores. While existing amphibious vehicles could cope with many slipways and surfaces, they struggle with the steep inclines and different terrain that are a feature of many shorelines. By using rubber caterpillar tracks and low geared hydraulics, the Iguana can evidently traverse quite severe surfaces/inclines and whilst this restricts the crafts land speed to 5mph, it nevertheless opens up opportunities that have until now been the reserve of expensive specialized military vessels.

Whilst this luxuriously appointed example is obviously aimed squarely at the well-heeled luxury market, the potential for commercial versions is obvious and I am told there is already a significant amount of interest being shown by the professional and commercial sectors for a multitude of applications.

The pricey Iguana Expedition 31 offers is a completely new perspective with its innovative approach to amphibious vehicles- and it works.

Having sampled over 30 very well presented boats at the HSBO, there was only enough space in Maritime Journal to describe some of the more interesting craft and those listed are four quite different examples from a varied cross section.

By Paul Lemmer